Why Is My Attention Span So Short Now?

Daan van der Wiele

Daan van der Wiele

Head of Marketing and Product

We get asked about attention span relatively often. Questions like “How valuable is the visual attention displayed by our eye-tracking heatmaps since our attention span is so short?” and ”Do we nowadays just absorb less information since our attention span has decreased?”. These are all vital questions, so in this blog, we want to shed some light on this. 

With all the information we’re being bombarded with daily, it's necessary to understand the relationship between attention, consideration, and the believed reduction of our attention span. Because, despite what many people would acknowledge most of us aren't scatterbrained individuals, so let's find out why!

Attention: a scarce resource

Our attention is called upon throughout the day by various things, for example through online advertising before a YouTube video or in the real world through large billboards alongside a highway. Our personal timelines are riddled with content and ads, all screaming for our attention.

This raging battle for our attention has more and more players with increasing digital capabilities trying to capture it, thereby increasing the supply. Because of this insanely high supply of content, our attention has become a scarce resource for those parties who are attempting to obtain it. We wrote about this more in-depth in a previous article.

As a result of this constant fighting for our attention, we consumers have learned to become very demanding and picky since there’s an abundance of options to choose from, an effect of a demand and supply difference.

The attention span of a goldfish

So is this the reason why our attention span is so short? A lot of people have the idea that this is the case. They'll say: “I have the attention of a goldfish now, thanks to the internet and social media''. It’s an interesting comparison; people seem to perceive a change in their behavior, but is it correct?

The attention of a goldfish analogy has received a lot of traction over the recent years, but undeservingly so since it’s frankly a complete myth. This comparison was pushed to the forefront based on a study from the Consumer Insights team of Microsoft Canada. They surveyed 2,000 Canadians and analyzed the brain activity of 112 people when carrying out different tasks.

However, the most talked about figure on the reduction of attention was cited from a different source which was not able to verify this data. So no, there is no evidence human attention spans are shrinking, additionally, it appears that goldfish don’t suffer from a short attention span either. 

When you think about it, it doesn’t make sense anyways, we can still focus our attention on a lot of things for a very long time. We only need to mention Netflix to remember how many TV shows people can consume for hours upon end (binge watch much lately?). 

The only logical conclusion is that our attention span is actually still the same, so something else must have changed. As it turns out, the answer needs to be sought in our consideration. So let's find out how that works.

The consideration test

As mentioned before, we have plenty of options to consider, which means we need to make an assessment of the available prospects and choose the best one. The answer on how our consideration judges the options are related to trust; do I trust this option enough for it to be worth my attention? As we know, trust is built upon different factors, and experience is one of them. 

But that doesn’t mean we only consider things we have proven worthy of our attention over time, the trust can be built instantly. If we notice something interesting, we immediately trust that it will keep being interesting if we keep paying attention. When that occurs, the consideration test is passed. 

So what has happened over the years is that it has become increasingly difficult to pass this consideration test. The abundance of entertainment through the rise of the internet has raised the difficulty. The quantity of things to choose from is so high that we can only choose to consider what we will think is the best reward for our attention. 

Once this challenging test of trust and consideration has been passed we can submit and absorb the information since our attention span is functionable. When we’re in the zone, we can focus our attention for hours and hours consecutively, 

However, that consideration mechanic to trust to pay attention is constantly happening. If a piece of content passes the test of trust in the first instance, it can still be broken later on. When it doesn’t live up to our expectations, the trust is gone, so we’re quick to decide to move on.


Ultimately, we’ve ended up in a world where attention is completely reliant on consideration… and yet, there have been no changes to the normal capacities of our minds. They still have the same cognitive capacity as always. 

Our consideration to pay attention has decreased due to the abundance of choice, and we need to learn how to deal with that. If the consideration test is passed, we will still engage our full attention and truly consider the information. 

So TLDR; no, our attention span is not short and has not decreased  and, just as important, the goldfish comparison is a complete myth that’s disrespectful to gold fishes. Thankfully, they can’t confront us with it.

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